38 We Have Divided Inheritance Into Seven Categories #20
The Baha'i laws of inheritance apply only in case of intestacy, that is,
when the individual dies without leaving a will. In the Kitab-i-Aqdas (
109), Baha'u'llah instructs every believer to write a will. He elsewhere
clearly states that the individual has full jurisdiction over his property
and is free to determine the manner in which his or her estate is to be
divided and to designate, in the will, those, whether Baha'i or
non-Baha'i, who should inherit (Q and A 69). In this connection, a letter
written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi explains that:
...even though a Baha'i is permitted in his will to dispose of his
wealth in the way he wishes, yet he is morally and conscientiously
bound to always bear in mind, while writing his will, the
necessity of his upholding the principle of Baha'u'llah regarding
the social function of wealth, and the consequent necessity of
avoiding its over-accumulation and concentration in a few
individuals or groups of individuals.
This verse of the Aqdas introduces a lengthy passage in which Baha'u'llah
elaborates the Baha'i law of inheritance. In reading this passage one
should bear in mind that the law is formulated with the presumption that
the deceased is a man; its provisions apply, mutatis mutandis, when the
deceased is a woman.
The system of inheritance which provides for distribution of the
deceased's estate among seven categories of heirs (children, spouse,
father, mother, brothers, sisters, and teachers) is based on the
provisions set out by the Bab in the Bayan. The major features of the
Baha'i laws of inheritance in the case of intestacy are:
1. If the deceased is a father and his estate includes a personal
residence, such residence passes to the eldest son (Q and A 34).
2. If the deceased has no male descendants, two thirds of the residence
pass to his female descendants and the remaining third passes to the House
of Justice (Q and A 41, 72). See note 42 concerning the levels of the
institution of the House of Justice to which this law applies. (See also
3. The remainder of the estate is divided among the seven categories of
heirs. For details of the number of shares to be received by each group,
see Questions and Answers, number 5, and Synopsis and Codification,
4. In case there is more than one heir in any category the share allotted
to that class should be divided between them equally, be they male or
5. In cases where there is no issue, the share of the children reverts to
the House of Justice (Q and A 7, 41).
6. Should one leave offspring, but either part or all of the other
categories of heirs be non-existent, two thirds of their shares revert to
the offspring and one third to the House of Justice (Q and A 7).
7. Should none of the specified categories exist, two thirds of the estate
revert to the nephews and nieces of the deceased. If these do not exist,
the same shares revert to the aunts and uncles; lacking these, to their
sons and daughters. In any case the remaining third reverts to the House
8. Should one leave none of the aforementioned heirs, the entire estate
reverts to the House of Justice.
9. Baha'u'llah states that non-Baha'is have no right to inherit from their
Baha'i parents or relatives (Q and A 34). Shoghi Effendi in a letter
written on his behalf indicates that this restriction applies only to
such cases when a Baha'i dies without leaving a will and when, therefore,
his property will have to be divided in accordance with the rules set
forth in the Aqdas. Otherwise, a Baha'i is free to bequeath his property
to any person, irrespective of religion, provided however he leaves a
will, specifying his wishes. It is always possible, therefore, for a
Baha'i to provide for his or her non-Baha'i partner, children or relatives
by leaving a will.
Additional details of the laws of inheritance are summarized in the
Synopsis and Codification, section IV.C.3.a.-o.
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